JINAN, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- Heavy snow and freezing temperatures forced more airports and highways in northern China to close Thursday, just two days ahead of China's Spring Festival.
Millions of travellers already on the road hope to arrive home by Chinese New Year's eve on Saturday.
Meteorological authorities forecast more blizzards to hit more areas Thursday, impacting nine provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in China's northern, western and eastern regions.
The cold snap will continue for the next three days, the meteorological authorities added.
Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province, had to close its airport and suspend 95 percent of long-distance coach services Thursday morning, as the overnight snow turned to ice, making runways and roads hazardous.
|Passengers sit inside of a train at the railway station in Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province, Feb. 11, 2010. Snow hit Anhui Province on Thursday during rush hour of Spring Festival Transport. (Xinhua/Guo Chen)
Communications authorities said bus terminals had turned on heating and provided hot drinking water for more than 3,000 stranded passengers.
In north China's Shanxi Province, police helped out by using their vehicles to escort passenger buses along sections of closed highways, so people could return home for the festival.
The heavy snow that started Tuesday night forced the closure of six expressways in the province, halting inter-provincial bus services and stranding thousands of passengers at a coach terminal in the provincial capital of Taiyuan Wednesday.
|A woman carrying her child walks on snow at the railway station in Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province, Feb. 11, 2010. (Xinhua/Guo Chen)
"I prefer going by bus than train, because trains are very crowded and slow, " said Yan Jing, a passenger who finally gave up waiting for a bus Wednesday and instead headed to the city's railway station to try her luck there like thousands of others.
In northeast China's Liaoning Province, an ice-breaker failed Wednesday to open a passage to Juhua island, where sea ferry services have been disrupted by sea icing since Dec. 31.
The island, with a population of 3,200, is the largest one in Liaodong Bay, and is separated by a 7.5-km gulf from Xingcheng City, Liaoning. The island has drinking water and the residents had already prepared food for the winter.
But local authorities had hoped to send food and necessities to the islanders before the Spring Festival. But there was no ice breaker available that could get through the ice.
The country's only ice breaking vessel that could do the job, the Snow Dragon, is being used in an Antarctica exploration mission.
The provincial marine and fisheries department said the sea ice in Liaodong Bay, the worst in 40 years, is still expanding.
In northwest China's Shaanxi Province, expressways from the capital city Xi'an to east China's Shandong, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces and northern China's Hebei, Henan, and Shanxi Provinces were all closed after snow started falling Wednesday evening.
The freezing weather stranded hundreds of people at Xi'an City's Sanfuwan bus terminal Thursday morning.
Cheng Congjun, head of the bus terminal said the station had prepared free housing for the stranded passengers.
"We also dispatched ten extra tourist buses to ensure that all passengers will make it home for the holidays," Cheng said.
"The freezing temperatures are an absolute bummer for holiday travelers like us, especially when we get stranded at the station with large amounts of luggage and have to wait in the cold air," an anonymous passenger said at the bus station.
Still, the snowfall alleviated the drought that hit Shaanxi in mid-November last year, according to the provincial agricultural bureau.
Some coach services in Jinan, capital city of eastern Shandong Province, were closed too.
"Bus traffic will be reduced Thursday due to the heavy snow," said Zhang Zihua, spokeswoman for Jinan Coach Station.
She said bus services in Jinan carried 240,000 passengers Wednesday, which was almost the stations' capacity.
She said all major highways in the province were closed Thursday. Some long-distance bus services in the province were still operating, however, as they took alternative routes to reach their destinations.
In the port city of Qingdao, 32 flights were canceled after the airport was closed at 11:30 pm Wednesday. The airport reopened at 9:30 am Thursday.
In neighboring Jiangsu Province, some 40 flights were delayed, more than 20,000 long-distance bus trips were suspended and many expressways were closed by noon due to the cold snap.
Traffic services resumed at about 3 pm after more than 430 ice trucks cleared the highways and roads. More than 200 additional buses were used to take stranded passengers home.
In Shanghai, the freezing weather left more than 200 domestic flights delayed or canceled Wednesday, while nearly 100 international flights were also affected. The flights returned to normal services Thursday.
In Ali, in the Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China, more than 20 soldiers rescued ten people Thursday morning after trudging strong think snow and strong winds. The ten were trapped after a snowstorm Wednesday morning.
|Passengers walk on snow at the railway station in Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province, Feb. 11, 2010. (Xinhua/Guo Chen)